Shadow of the Vampire is a dark comedy horror film released in 2000 directed by E. Elias Merhige and written by Steven Katz, and starring John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, and Udo Kier. The film is a fictionalized account of the making of the classic vampire film Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, directed by F. W. Murnau, in which the film crew begin to have disturbing suspicions about their lead actor. The film borrows the techniques of silent films, including the use of intertitles to explain elided action and iris lenses.
The film received two Academy Award nominations, Best Supporting Actor and Best Makeup, but lost to Traffic and How The Grinch Stole Christmas, respectively. Shadow of the Vampire received both critical and commercial success. The film currently has a rating of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
In 1921, German director Frederich Wilhelm Murnau takes his cast and crew on-location in Czechoslovakia to shoot Nosferatu, an unauthorized version of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. Murnau keeps his team in the dark about their schedule and the actor playing the vampire Count Orlok. It is left to the film's other main actor, Gustav von Wangenheim, to explain that the lead is an obscure German theater performer named Max Schreck, who is a character actor. To involve himself fully in his role, Schreck will only appear among the cast and crew in make-up, and will never break character.
After filming scenes in a sound stage with leading actress Greta Schroeder, who is displeased about leaving Berlin, Murnau's team travels to the remote inn where they will be staying and shooting further scenes. The landlady becomes distressed at Murnau removing crucifixes around the inn, and the cameraman, Wolfgang Muller, falls into a strange, hypnotic state. Gustav discovers a bottle of blood amongst the team's food supplies, and Murnau delivers a caged ferret to a cellar in the middle of the night.
One night, Murnau rushes his team up to an old Slovak castle for the first scene with the vampire. Schreck appears for the first time, and his appearance and behavior impress and disturb them. The film's producer, Albin Grau, suspects that Schreck is not a German theater actor, and is confused when Murnau tells him that he found Schreck in the castle. Soon after the completion of the scene, Wolf is found collapsed in a dark tunnel. Upon returning to the inn, the landlady appears frightened by his pale, weak appearance, and mutters "Nosferatu" while clutching at a rosary.
Whilst filming a dinner scene between Gustav and Count Orlok, Murnau startles Gustav, making him cut his finger with a bread knife. Schreck reacts wildly at the sight of the blood, and, urged on by Murnau, tries drinking from Gustav's wound. Suddenly the generator powering the lights fails. When the lights return, Schreck has pinned Wolf to the floor, apparently draining his blood. Albin orders filming ended for the night, and the crew rushes from the castle, leaving Schreck behind. Schreck examines the camera equipment, fascinated by footage of a sunrise.
Schreck is a vampire who Murnau has made a deal with, in order to create the most realistic vampire film possible. He has been promised Greta as a prize for completing the film, but remains difficult and uncooperative until the entire production is at his mercy. With Wolf near death, Murnau is forced to bring in another cinematographer, Fritz Arno Wagner. During Murnau's absence, Albin and the film's scriptwriter, Henrik Galeen, share a drink by a campfire, when Schreck approaches them. They invite him to join them, and question Schreck, believing he is still in character. They ask him when he became a vampire; Schreck replies that he cannot remember. Albin and Galeen reply that Dracula would not reply so, then ask Schreck what he thought of the novel. Schreck points out Dracula's loneliness, and the flaw of Dracula remembering how to do everyday activities that he has not performed in centuries. Albin and Henrik suggest creating more vampires, but Schreck replies he is too old, and he seems to remembers he could not anyway. When they ask how he became a vampire, Schreck starts to mention a tryst he had. A bat flies by and Schreck catches it, sucking its blood ecstatically. The others are impressed by what they assume is talented acting.
The production moves to Heligoland. Murnau, in a laudanum-induced stupor, admits Schreck's true nature to Albin and Fritz. The two realize that they are trapped, leaving them no choice but to complete the film and give Greta to the vampire if they wish to survive. Greta becomes hysterical after noticing Schreck casts no reflection. Murnau, Albin and Fritz drug her, and film the scene as Schreck feeds on Greta. The laudanum in her blood puts Schreck to sleep. At dawn, the remaining three attempt to open a door and let in sunlight to destroy Schreck. However, Schreck previously cut the chain, having learned of their trickery. Schreck kills Fritz and Albin while Murnau continues filming. The rest of the crew arrives in time to lift up the door and flood the set with sunlight, destroying Schreck while Murnau films his death.
Murnau completes the filming and calmly states "I think we have it."
- Shadow of the Vampire – IMDB
- Shadow of the Vampire – Wikipedia
- Learn about the real F.W. Murnau, Max Schreck and the silent film Nosferatu, featured in Shadow of the Vampire.
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